If you were hungry late one night leaving an Edinburgh tavern in the 19th century, instead of chips or a kebab you might have sought a salmon hash called “Tweed kettle”, in which salmon is gently simmered or poached in a stock of white wine, mushrooms, shallots and herbs, and traditionally served with chopped hard-boiled egg and/or shrimps, and creamed potatoes.
As James Bertram in Books, Authors and Events records: “In a house down a stair in Broughton Street, much frequented by booksellers’ clerks, one might obtain, at the modest charge of sevenpence, a liberal helping from a succulent dish called “salmon hash”, better known as “Tweed kettle”, and it could be obtained all day long, hot or cold to taste.
“Shocking to relate, it could be got all year round and always excellently cooked. The landlady, being a Kelso woman, was familiar with the fish and its capabilities.”
Describing in Angler’s Companion his own recipe using simply a boiling broth of water and salt, Thomas Tod Stoddart calls this dish “the veritable kettle of Tweedside, such as frothed and foamed in the days of the merry monks of Kelso… This method of boiling will be found to equally bring out the true flavor of the fish.” The liquor is known as the “dover”, and a little of the hot brine is served with the salmon.
None other than Sir Walter Scott writes in St Ronan’s Well: “A large cauldron is boiled by the side of a salmon river, containing a quantity of water, thickened with salt to the consistence of brine. In this, the fish is plunged when taken, and eaten by the company fronde super viridi [on the green leaves]. This is accounted the best way of eating salmon by those who desire to taste the fish in a state of extreme freshness. The more judicious gastronomes eat no other sauce than a spoonful of water in which the salmon has been boiled, together with a little pepper and vinegar.”
Everyone, it seems, has a different recipe to poach salmon to perfection. Here is Annette Hope’s from A Caledonian Feast: “Poaching should be very gently done, the fish put into cold water which is slowly brought to the boil, the heat then immediately reduced so that the water merely simmers for about one minute. The heat is then turned off and the fish left in the water, covered, until quite cold.”
To compare, here is Janet Warren from A Feast of Scotland: “Wipe the fish, put it into a large pan and fill the container with enough fresh cold water to cover. Add plenty of salt with 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, a sprig of parsley and 6 peppercorns. Cover the pan and very slowly bring the liquid to the boil. Boil it rapidly for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
“To serve hot, with the pan well covered, leave the fish in the water for 20 minutes then drain it well, remove the skin, and serve the fish with hollandaise sauce, new potatoes and a cucumber salad.
“To serve cold, remove the lid from the pan when it has boiled for the 3 minutes and leave the fish completely to cool in the liquid. Drain it well, remove the skin, then serve the fish, preferably on the day of cooking.”
Salmon isn’t of course an exclusively Scottish fish, so here are some of the world’s contributions to salmon gastronomy:
Fried Baltic Salmon with Plum Compote
This recipe, “Cepts Lasis ar Plumju Kompotu” in Latvian, from North Atlantic Seafood by Alan Davidson: “Salmon might be thought rather rich for frying, especially when fried potatoes are to be added, but the acerbity of the compote nicely balances their richness.
“Make an ordinary batter out of flour, eggs, salt and pepper, using milk as the liquid. Dip each fillet or steak of fish in the batter, making sure that it is well coated, and then deep fry them in oil for 5-10 minutes, until they are cooked through. The exact frying time will depend on the thickness of the pieces.
“Meanwhile, have ready some hot fried potatoes, cut in rounds, and a compote of plums, stewed with just a touch of vinegar. Serve fish, potatoes and compote together; the gold with the purple, the pleasantly unctuous with the faintly acid.”
Finnish salmon soup
Known as Suomalainen Lohikeitto in Finland, recorded by Alan Davidson in North Atlantic Seafood. He writes that this recipe was served to the Queen in a forest up-country in Jyväskylä on her state visit in 1976. Tarmo Salminen, the originator of this recipe, said the quantities cater for “one Queen and twenty-four others”. So calculate for your guests accordingly.
Fresh salmon, 1.25kg meat, plus head and trimmings; peppercorns, 8 black and 8 white; 30 whole allspice; 100g sliced onion; 1kg (2lb) peeled potatoes; 1.5 litres milk; 100g chopped dill; salt as required; 1.5kg butter.
“The salmon stock should be prepared by adding the head, bones and trimmings of the fish to 3¼l (5½pt) water, with the whole peppercorns, allspice and onion. Let all this simmer gently for 20 minutes, removing all the scum, then strain. You should have 3l (5pt). Cut the potatoes into 3cm cubes and bring them quickly to the boil, to remove excess starch. Drain them and add them to the stock. Cut the salmon into 4cm pieces, free of skin, and add these too. Bring the milk just to the boil. When the potatoes are half cooked, add the milk and remaining ingredients. Correct the seasoning and cook for another 10 minutes. You will have 5 litres (8 pints) of soup.”
Fruit-alcohol-marinated salmon with apple and chives
If you have an old bottle of fruit alcohol hanging around at the back of the cupboard after a holiday many years ago, here’s a Scandinavian way to get rid of it, courtesy of Keith Floyd in Floyd’s Fjord Fiesta:
1 piece of very fresh salmon, weighing around 350g (12oz); 1 wineglass of crème de cassis (about 120ml/4fl oz); a good dash of fruit-flavoured aquavit or vodka (blackcurrant, blackberry or elderberry); 1 teaspoon fine sea salt; a couple of grinds of coarse black pepper per portion.
For the apple salad: 4 crisp eating apples; juice of half a lemon; 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives; 150ml (quarter pint) soured cream or crème fraiche.
“Get yourself a really sharp knife and cut the salmon into fine slices, about 6mm (¼in) thick. Mix together the marinade ingredients – the crème de cassis and aquavit or vodka, seasoning with a little sea salt and pepper. Pour over the salmon and leave at room temperature for about an hour, turning the salmon over from time to time. Just before you want to eat, peel and core the apples, and then cut them into matchstick pieces, sprinkling them with lemon to stop them from going brown. Mix with the chives and soured cream or crème fraiche, and season. Lift out the salmon, shaking off the excess liquid. Season with coarsely-ground black pepper and a little sea salt and put a dollop of the apple mixture on top.”